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How to Make Lasting Connections in the Dizzying Startup World

The Grind

Editor's Note: The Grind is a weekly column that asks a revolving cast of young founders to take us through the daily rigors of running a business, as well as offer up advice on how they achieved milestones or overcame challenges. Follow The Grind on Twitter with the hashtag #ENTGrind.

How to Make Lasting Connections in the Dizzying Startup World

In the world of startups, it's all about who you know.

For me, developing my network began with a radio ad. Back in 2009, I was listening to some tunes on XM Radio when a commercial came on about virtual phone system company Grasshopper -- a successful and well-connected business within the tech industry. At the time, my healthy snack business Little Duck Organics, was a new startup in Boston, and I was looking for a little guidance from my peers on my business practices. When I found out Grasshopper was based just minutes from my home, I saw this as an opportunity to shoot the co-founder David Hauser an e-mail with hopes of connecting and picking his brain.

I wasn't expecting a reply, but I had to push myself to get out there, otherwise, I wasn't going to meet anyone.

To my surprise, I received a reply from Jonathan Kay, then Grasshopper’s "Ambassador of Buzz." He set up a call for David, him and myself to chat. We all hit it off, which lead to a follow-up dinner a few weeks later where I was introduced to current Grasshopper CEO Siamak Taghaddos, as well as Allan Branch and Steve Bristol, founders of Jacksonville, Fla. accounting software startup LessAccounting. Jonathan continued to include me in events, one of them being a Grasshopper-sponsored event at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, I was introduced to Zach DeAngelo, who is now the current COO of my company.

Since our initial meeting in 2009, Jonathan has since moved on to another venture but we've stayed in touch and continue to build our relationship. I became great friends with Steve and Allan -- they invited me to join them on a four-day cruise coordinated by the team at LessEverything that year, introducing me to a small group of talented entrepreneurs who I stay in touch with regularly.

Coming full circle, about a year ago, the co-founder of now-closed clothing company Dillon Road James Marciano reached out to me about an investment opportunity with Little Duck Organics. He had seen on LinkedIn that I was connected to his good friend David Hauser from Grasshopper. Although, James and I did not end up working together in a business capacity, we’ve developed a great relationship, and he is another successful contact in my network who I can continue to learn from.

Being open to the prospect of meeting new people is essential to young entrepreneurs, and its ripple effect can help continue the networking benefits long after the first introduction. From my personal experience, here are some takeaways:

Always be on the lookout for contacts.
Keep your ears and eyes open for any contacts that can further your business -- they are everywhere. You really never know whom you may meet and the impact they can have on your future.

Keep in touch with everyone.
Networking isn't always easy but it helps when you pool of contacts is large. They are networking just as much as you are, and the chances of them meeting someone that you can benefit from are just as good as your own.

Don't be shy.
If I hadn't made an attempt to contact David from Grasshoppper, the number of introductions I received would never have happened. Don’t hold back on reaching out to another entrepreneur because you think they won’t get your email. Surprisingly, they do and will often respond. They have been in your shoes. Someone likely helped them out, so the chances of them wanting to help you are pretty good.

Reach out to a diverse group.
It is important to have a close network of other entrepreneurs with various ranges of success and experience. It’s amazing how often I find myself picking up the phone, calling a fellow entrepreneur and explaining a predicament, challenge or success. It’s such a relief to have relationships with people that can relate or share valuable lessons they’ve learned.

What other tips do you have for networking? Let us know in the comments below.

Zak Normandin is the award-winning CEO and founder of children's healthy snack business Little Duck Organics.The success of Tiny Fruits, a line of no-sugar added bite-sized snack made from 100% fruit, has led his company to worldwide distribution in only two years.

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